If you live on the Vineyard, or spend much time here, you’ve no doubt seen the work of sculptor Steve Lohman. His unique large-scale wire sculptures grace the walls of Atria restaurant, the Mansion House, the Hob Knob Inn, and the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, to name a few. His wall-mounted or freestanding steel wire sculptures can also be found at many other businesses and homes around the Island.
Although he’s based on the Vineyard, where he has a home and studio on the road to Long Point, Mr. Lohman has also established himself internationally as an artist, with his work featured at Stanford University, the Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Louis Vuitton Asia headquarters. He is the artistic director for Sonoma-based Orpheus Wines, where he designs all of the labels, shows his work, and curates other artist exhibits for the winery’s tasting room and sculpture garden.
Here on the Vineyard, Mr. Lohman maintains a relatively low profile, selling his work directly to clients from his studio. Up until a couple of years ago, he displayed his work regularly at the Chilmark Flea Market and held shows at the Field Gallery, the Eisenhauer Gallery, the Gay Head Gallery (now the Sargent Gallery), and A Gallery. These days, Mr. Lohman only occasionally shows at Vineyard galleries. So it’s a remarkable occasion that the artist is featured in not one, but two concurrently running shows, starting this week.
The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center recently commissioned a work, which will be unveiled on Thursday, July 7. Across Beach Road from the Film Center, the Workshop Gallery will also feature the artist’s work. The openings will be held simultaneously, giving guests the opportunity to check out one show and then dash across the street for the other.
Both shows will feature all new work created in 2016. The focal point of the Film Center show is a large-scale steel wire image of iconic film director Cecil B. DeMille. The freestanding sculpture will be on permanent display in the Film Center’s Feldman Family art space.
The Workshop will feature pieces created with neon tubing, a new direction in Mr. Lohman’s work. “I did some work in neon in the past, but I tended to make very experimental pieces that were phenomenally fragile,” Mr. Lohman said. “Wall work translates into neon in a way that provides more longevity.” Mr. Lohman adds that the neon in the sculptures will remain active for at least 40 or 50 years.
He creates the neon pieces at his studio in New Orleans, where he also has a home and studio. Mr. Lohman works collaboratively with an artist experienced in bending the glass tubes. “I like neon because it’s very exciting and alive,” Mr. Lohman said. “It buzzes. It flickers. We all have such a visceral reaction to neon.”
Mr. Lohman says the neon has also added some excitement to his creative process. “In many ways, it’s a logical step for my work,” he said. “I work in a continuous line. That’s what neon is as well.”
The artist describes his work as “three-dimensional drawings in space.” Each piece is created using one continuous line in wire, circular steel pipe, or neon. The results of the twisting and bending process are whimsical human and animal figures, or occasionally still life objects such as a wineglass, a musical instrument, or a flower.
The images are witty, attractive, and fascinating in the way that the artist manages to represent each figure so simply, without using more than one piece of his chosen material. The process is similar to the exercise in which one draws a figure without lifting the pen or pencil from the paper.
This method, along with the absence of hard edges or corners, gives each piece a kinetic, fanciful feeling. The figures who populate the world of Mr. Lohman’s imagination are often active: dancing, playing music, enjoying drinks, or engaging in lively conversation.
Mr. Lohman also creates caricature-style portraits on commission. Recently he provided a member of Obama’s cabinet with a stylized headshot of the president, which may wind up among other works of art in the Obama library.
Originally a furniture maker, Mr. Lohman began working in his current medium by making wire models for his furniture designs. “I started putting people into the furniture just to get a feeling of scale,” Mr. Lohman said. “I never anticipated doing anything with the wire at all. They were just my working drawings.”
He enjoyed the models so much that he soon gave up making furniture to focus on wire sculpture full-time. He had his first show at the Field Gallery, exhibiting beside his aunt, the well-known seaweed artist Rose Treat.
“At my first show, I sold out at the opening,” Mr. Lohman said. “It was instant gratification. The wire work is a lot more spontaneous than making furniture. I could make something in one sitting.”
35 years later, Mr. Lohman has earned a worldwide reputation, creating commissioned pieces for corporations and institutions all over the globe. His work has been included in shows and events for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, and most recently for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. He created 75 sculptures of iconic NYC buildings and structures for a banquet at the Ritz-Carlton.
The two upcoming shows will give Vineyarders a rare chance to view a large selection of Mr. Lohman’s work.
“Steve Lohman: Steel, Neon, and Wire Sculptures”: July 7 to July 28 at Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Vineyard Haven, and July 7 to August 17 at the Workshop Studios and Gallery, Vineyard Haven. Both shows will open with an artist reception on July 7, starting at 5 pm at the Film Center and moving across Beach Road to a reception at the Workshop with music and refreshments. For more information, visit lineartgallery.com.